Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
I used my leave as an excuse to pick up books I might normally not, meaning anything that sounded even remotely interesting was added to the large stack in my hand and purchased. This is one I actually hesitated over and kept coming back to, and I was pleasantly surprised. The subject matter was new to me, and I actually learned something from the novel: I didn't know that leprosy is now more correctly known as Hansen's Disease, and that there had been a leper colony in Hawaii. Native Hawaiians were especially vulnerable to the disease which makes sense since it was new to the environment and they hadn't developed antibodies naturally already.
Moloka'i tells the story of a young girl, Rachel Kalama, who is diagnosed with leprosy (since this is what it was still known as in 1891 when the novel begins), and separated from her family, being forced to live in exile at the leper colony on Moloka'i. While there, Rachel is one of the lucky ones whose disease progresses slowly so she is witness to many events and changes on the island. She also forms important and close relationships with several people in the colony, creating a new family of her own. Meanwhile, the reader gets hints of the stigma that accompanies the disease and the discrimination her family faces due to Rachel's unfortunate illness. Other important characters include Sister Catherine, one of the nuns that devotes her life to helping the children on the colony and sees Rachel as the closest she comes to ever having a daughter. While certain parts of the story may seem familiar or at least the blurb is (strong female character lives an interesting and varied life), Brennert chose a unique setting as a backdrop, which helped his novel a lot. The characters were interesting and likable enough, rolling with the tragedies and heartaches while still living a full life. While this isn't great literature or a modern classic, it was a good story, and at least teaches the readers about a topic they may know little to nothing about.